For me, it's here.
Once the press junkets clear, the training camps start and the calendar inches into August, for me, it’s football season.
All day. Every day.
Oh, when it comes to sports, the mind will wander off into other directions, usually being baseball. But the focus zooms in on football. Hardcore.
Especially college football.
Before delving right into the upcoming campaign of pomp, pageantry and bone-rattling circumstance, it seems like a good time to step back, take a deep breath and gain a little perspective.
Not an easy task considering the social and political climate in which we live.
But … here’s the deal:
It’s all about Alabama and Clemson, again, and, no, there hasn’t been a changing of the guard as to which program heads the nation’s elite.
Probably because they’ve been on a pair with each other for the past four seasons.
Read that again: Equal.
At least as equal as two best-in-the-country programs can be.
With all due respect to Paul Finebaum, SEC lovers and ACC haters, the evidence is overwhelming on that aspect.
Recite the silly claptrap about the weakness of Clemson’s week-in, week-out competition, about how Georgia is Alabama’s biggest obstacle, or roll out some silly tired, old rants about how many more national championships the Crimson Tide has in their history.
These are the realities of the last four seasons:
- The two have played each other four times — all in the College Football Playoff — and split.
- The two have won a pair of titles each.
- The two have won 55 and lost four apiece.
- The two have won 30 conference games and lost two apiece.
The only differences are these:
- Clemson has won four conference titles to Alabama’s three.
- Alabama has played in four national-title games to Clemson’s three.
Frankly, the similarities between the two are striking. Not only do the Tigers match up with the uber-hyped Tide on NFL draft picks (Both had three first-round picks, plus Clemson had four of the top 40 selections back in April, Alabama four of the 50), but they’ve even had their share of off-the-mark talking heads stating how their program stood so far above all others.
Remember the resounding conventional wisdom the moment Clemson wrapped up last year’s 44-16 victory against the Tide in Santa Clara, Calif., to clinch its second crown in three seasons?
No? Well, it went a little something like this: There is a new king in town. Move over, Alabama. Clemson isn’t just better, it’s much better.
Now, in the eight months since then, things have subsided a bit. Particularly once summer commenced and thoughts of a ticked-off Nick Saban firing up the troops in Tuscaloosa, Ala., became a little harder to ignore.
Still, Clemson being the new standard was the “word” back in January, and that hasn’t completely faded.
It just wasn’t the case.
No matter how charming Dabo Swinney was in weaving homespun logic between boyish grins postgame.
That 28-point difference was a mirage, colored in a false image tainted by a pair of interceptions and eyes focusing strictly on the scoreboard, not what was going on between the lines.
If you’re going to be the dominant program, that’s going to include a physical pounding of any and all competition. Never happened against the Tide. Thing is, ’Bama has no issues moving the ball. Was almost identical to Clemson in its success (the Tigers posted 482 yards to the Tide’s 443).
But it had those picks, and it had six penalties for 60 yards while Clemson only had one for 12.
The boasts of Clemson being THAT much better than Alabama that night were as ill-informed as those proclaiming the Tide likewise over the Tigers a year prior. In that one, a 24-6 national semifinal victory for ’Bama, Clemson only could muster 188 yards.
Yeah, and Alabama only had 261 … and the game was 10-6 in the third quarter.
The reasons for the flip from one season to the next: Turnovers and quarterbacks. Period.
Clemson moved on from Kelly Bryant in favor of Trevor Lawrence, and the two fumbles by the Tigers in the 2017 title game were supplanted by a pair of Tua Tagovailoa picks in 2018.
Alabama won their 2015 title tilt and Clemson returned the favor in 2016, and in both cases, either team could have won. The first one ended 45-40 and the second 35-31. ’Bama wore down the Tigers late in ’15 and Clemson returned the favor in ’16.
If it matters, Clemson, behind the legs, arm and improvisational skills of DeShaun Watson, outgained ’Bama in both, 550-473 and 511-376.
For this unofficial, four-game “series,” the Tigers hold an edge in yards (1,731 to 1,553) and points (125 to 116).
All things considered, sounds pretty equal to me.
Perhaps a fifth meeting in five seasons would prove something else.
Just don’t count on it.